For those just tuning in, Ys: The Oath in Felghana is the third Ys game in the series, and it is a complete remake of the original Ys III: The Wanderers of Ys.
Having played Ys Seven and enjoyed it plenty, I was eager to try out Oath. Character portraits are detailed and rich, and as is Ys tradition, the music is wonderful too. The portraits reminded me of Ark of Napishtim art and are consistently detailed, even if they’re of a random townsperson who has no bearing on the story whatsoever.
Some events in the game are fully-voiced, and on those occasions, each NPC has their own set of chords. These scenes include when you first meet the character, when you activate a quest for the character, and important story events.
Admittedly, the voices themselves aren’t exactly dulcet, but the effort put into the game is tremendous.
The story isn’t anything to write home about, but it does its job. After his previous adventure, Adol and his friend, Dogi, hear about rumors in Dogi’s home Felghana, so they decide to pop in to check up on it. There, they find Dogi’s childhood friend, Elena, being attacked by monsters and her brother, Chester, missing. Monsters have also appeared mysteriously throughout the land. All of it seems to be linked to a past legend involving the sealing of a demon that had threatened the nation in the past.
Where Oath really shines, is in the exploration and the boss battles. The dungeons in the game are veritable mazes, and are huge and crawling with enemies fully-capable of taking Adol down when given the chance. Just in order to survive, I had to get very comfortable with jumping and double-jumping, as well as making full use of the items that I found along my journey, such as the magic bracelets that let Adol shoot fireballs, charge through cracked walls, and hover in midair.
Oath encourages exploration by streamlining it. For example, finding hidden treasure chests, and out-of-the-way items that you can’t reach at any given point is never much a problem because, after you do make the effort to obtain them, you can always warp Adol to any save point you’ve previously encountered and continue along your quest to avoid too much backtracking.
A lot of other precautions were taken to prevent the game from being pointlessly annoying, too. When you die after a boss battle (which can and will happen), you’re allowed to restart from the battle itself. The same applies to when you die in a dungeon — you can restart at the last entrance you used with the HP you had when you entered.
With the inclusion of all these conveniences, you might mistakenly think Oath is an easy game. Unfortunately (or fortunately), that isn’t the case. Having played Oath, I think I now know what people meant when they said they felt Seven was too easy. I must have died at least ten times trying to figure out how to best the first boss in Oath, and then ten more trying to beat him using my newfound strategy.
In comparison, I didn’t die once in all of Ys Seven. The battles here are made all the more hard because the bosses really put the hurt on you and Adol can’t regenerate his health.
Boss battles feel like a classic pattern-recognition boss puzzle. One boss, for example — an ice dragon — had a single weak point, which was its head. When I would try to jump and attack it, it would snap its jaws and I would watch my HP decrease by approximately 60 points (out of 220).
After repeatedly failing to take it down, quite by accident, I discovered that if I charged at its leg, the dragon would fall over and I could attack its head without any fear of retaliation. Once its HP was down to approximately 500, it would start using a new attack where it would throw Adol up into the air and he would get pummeled with five 60-damage attacks that would more likely hit than not. In other words, either I had to learn to avoid getting picked up in the first place or almost surely die (again).
While my initial reaction to this was that of annoyance, I soon began to look forward to the boss fights at the end of each area in the game. They’re really quite exhilarating and Oath is a game that relies on reaction time and skill. I hadn’t had as much fun with a boss battle that perpetually beat me to the ground over and over since Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts II.
As with every game, Oath in Felghana is also home to a few minor inconveniences. One of these is its camera, which is controlled automatically by the game.
Because the game’s camera is positioned differently depending on the map, there are times when distance can be hard to judge. Attacking midair enemies while on a 2.5-D field is one of the hardest parts of dungeon-exploration, while sometimes the camera is angled such that judging horizontal distance is difficult. It wasn’t enough to hinder my appreciation of the game, but it does require quite a bit of getting used to. Eventually, I just learned how to watch the shadows on the ground to tell where mid-air enemies were.
Restarting at a dungeon entrance with the same amount of HP you first entered with can be a hindrance, too. Sometimes, I’d enter a new area with only 10 HP left, and even if I restarted at the zone, I’d still only have 10 HP to tide me over. There’s no way to heal yourself in Oath game by using items, so I’d either have to avoid everyone until I found a save point, hope for a level-up, or depend on enemy drops.
Luckily, enemies drop goodies often. Sometimes, it can be temporary stat augments that increase your strength, MP, or defense, and sometimes it’s just the usual money drop, but by far, the most valuable are the HP restoration items. It’s too bad these are determined by chance because I heavily relied on recovery items to keep me alive.
Leveling your character is a large part of Oath. Sometimes, a boss that was previously unbeatable can be made far easier with just one more level-up. The good news is, leveling is especially easy because the enemies regenerate when you leave the screen.
Oath in Felghana lets you choose from five different difficulty levels, too, and I was given the option to restart a boss battle at an easier difficulty level after I had died several times. For the most part, I didn’t touch this option, but the one time I did (presumably changing Normal difficulty to Easy), I found the enemies attacked less often.
But again, don’t be fooled by the streamlining. If anything, Oath is proud of its difficulty. Here’s the description for the Nightmare level: “A truly nightmarish, completely absurd level of difficulty. For the elitist of the elite only. Mwa ha ha.”
Admittedly, Ys: Oath in Felghana initially caught me off-guard due to its increased difficulty. To describe it shortly, I’d say it was like being shoved off a very large hill after having been inured with my previous Ys Seven experience.
That said, I quickly got used to it, and I found that the experience wasn’t so much frustrating as it was challenging and fun. The game does its best to accommodate players that dislike minor annoyances, making it much more playable overall. Oath in Felghana was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me, right down to its story.
Food for thought:
- The game also rewards you with the standard goodies as you play through it. You can view the prologue and the opening movie, although the gallery and the other movies will have to wait until after you finish the main game to be unlocked.
- You can also toggle the sound to play the old PC88 version, as well as the X68X version, of the soundtrack.
- On a random note, Halloween was just passing by when Ys decided to throw me a dungeon full of zombies. What a sense of timing…